SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A California legislator is looking to outlaw the stunning defense used by a Texas teenager who didn’t serve a day in jail in a fatal DUI accident.
The 16-year-old was convicted in December of driving under the influence and killing four people, while critically injuring two others.
The judge told the teen he wouldn’t have to go to prison for his actions despite the fact teen caused the wreck with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit.
Instead, the teen was sentenced to 10 years probation, angering the victims’ families.
The light sentence came after the defense had successfully argued the teen didn’t realized the consequences of his actions, because his sheltered, ultra-rich upbringing clouded the teen’s sense of right and wrong.
It’s become known as the affluenza defense, and it’s something Assemblyman Mike Gatto doesn’t want to see in his state.
“This is outrageous,” he said. “If this type of thing creeps into our criminal justice system, we could have a lot of very unjust verdicts.”
The Southern California democrat has authored Assembly Bill 1508, which would prevent defendants from raising the concept that being spoiled is a disadvantage.
But can a bill that limits a lawyer’s defense tactics ever see the light of day? Not in veteran Sacramento defense attorney Ken Rosenfeld’s eyes.
“I think that it’s bandwagoning for politics, histrionics, and it’s an opportunity for somebody in the legislature to get their name out there,” he said.
Rosenfeld says there’s a deeper reason why the judge gave the teenager a lighter sentence.
“He suffers from post-traumatic stress and other psychiatric ailments that they testified about in court,” he said. “So there is no psychiatric diagnosis for being a rich kid. There’s no Richie Rich defense.”
But there is the perception that the rich kid got off easy.
For now, the teen remains at an exclusive drug and alcohol rehabilitation center—the $455,000 price tag to be picked up by his wealthy parents. The judge didn’t give a minimum time he has to spend there.
Gatto’s bill is moving forward and will be heard in committee this spring. He’s hoping his fellow lawmakers spring into action to stop the affluenza defense from spreading.
The families of those killed in that DUI accident say what adds even more insult to injury is that the teen never apologized for his actions.